Thursday, October 1, 2015

Nature Cure: Health Benefits of Time Spent in Nature

Getting outside into nature has been one of the primary prescriptions naturopathic doctors have been giving their patients across centuries.  This simple, affordable and accessible ‘treatment’ is starting to gain support in the research community as well.  Most recently, research being done out of Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute in Toronto is focusing on the effects of time spent in nature on memory and cognition.  This research shows that a 50-minute walk in nature can improve memory and focus by 20%.  Interestingly, the positive effects were even more pronounced in individuals diagnosed with depression.  A walk in a busy urban environment, on the other hand, doesn’t have any significant effects on either memory or cognition.  Don’t think that the benefits of being out in the trees can only be found on sunny days.  The same benefits are observed in February as in June, despite participants reporting not enjoying their winter walks as much.
Benefits of Spending Time in Nature (check-out

  • Synchronizes Circadian Rhythm
  • Helps you to stay grounded
  • Increases energy
  • Improves sleep
  • Improved mental/emotional sense of well-being
  • Increased Vitamin D levels
  • Improved vision
  • Increased immune function

Other researchers are finding the benefits of being in nature extend well beyond memory.  Getting outside in nature helps with ADHD, surgery recovery, breast cancer, elevated cortisol (our stress hormone) and high blood pressure.

So why is being in nature so good for us?  Our current understanding is that time in nature acts in a “softly fascinating” way.  Looking at trees, leaves, water and clouds holds our attention, but not too much.  This balance lets us de-focus and self-reflect in a way that the bore of a dark room or the over-stimulation of TV wont allow. 

It’s clear that finding ways to spend time in nature is one of the most important things you can do for your health.  Take ‘green breaks’ at work and go for a walk in a park or a green space near you.  Schedule a walk on the weekend with friends rather then going for coffee.  There are countless ways to incorporate nature into your daily routine.

For more information on the benefits of being in nature, or for some tips on how to work your 30 minutes in every day, please talk to one of our naturopathic doctors.